Abbvie's Hep C Regimen Approved, Marketing Battle With Gilead Up Next

U.S. regulators approved a new hepatitis C therapy from Abbvie (ABBV) , heralding a new era of market competition with Gilead Sciences (GILD) . 

The just-approved Abbvie hepatitis C regimen will be sold in the U.S. under brand name Viekira Pak at a price of $83,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. Gliead's Harvoni costs $94,500 for 12 weeks of treatment or $63,000 for eight weeks. Both competing regimens cure between 94% and 99% of hepatitis C patients. 

Most patients treated with Viekira Pak will swallow three pills in the morning and one pill at night. Some patients with more advanced liver damage due to hepatitis C will require an extra medicine, ribavirin, which adds two more pills to the Abbvie therapy. By comparison, patients treated with Gilead's Harvoni take a single pill each morning. 

Whether the convenience advantage of Gilead's Harvoni over Abbvie's Vieikira Pak matters in the market remains to be seen. The more likely battle will be waged over price and access to hepatitis C patients. Insurance companies have been very vocal about large numbers of hepatitis C patients seeking treatment swamping healthcare spending budgets. Some insurers are already trying to control the use of the new hepatitis C drugs by placing limits on reimbursements based on disease severity. With two competing therapies now on the market, some insurers and pharmacy benefit managers may try to force Gilead and Abbvie into granting price concessions in order to remain on formulary. 

Approximately 3.2 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gilead's Harvoni received U.S. approval in October. Through the first nine months of the year, Gilead reported $8.5 billion in sales of its first hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, all but about $1 billion of that amount in the U.S.

Viekira Pak contains three new drugs -- ombitasvir, paritaprevir and dasabuvir --that work together to inhibit the growth of HCV. It also contains ritonavir, a previously approved drug, which is used to increase blood levels of paritaprevir.

Abby developed Viekira Pak in partnership with Enanta Pharmaceuticals (ENTA) . With U.S. approval secured, Enanta is eligible for milestone payments and royalties on sales of the drugs from Abbvie.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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